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The Language of Successful Organizational Change

by Elise Olding  |  February 28, 2012  |  4 Comments

The majority of my interactions with clients lately have been about organizational change. It is becoming more of an executive level conversation as leaders are realizing the importance of paying attention to the people dynamics and understanding the consequences when they don’t. “Where to start?” is a question I’m commonly asked. Here’s the 100,000 foot view that I recently shared:

  • First – stop using “change management.” It’s a myth, change can’t be “managed.” All of us certainly know we can’t change someone else and likely have learned this well in our personal lives. It holds equally true at work but somehow we don’t take this into consideration and continue to pursue managing change at work. What you can do is influence, entice, engage, suggest, mentor… “Change management” sounds like something that gets delegated to lower levels to “manage” in the organization. While there is certainly a project component, the overall concept of an adaptable and flexible workforce is a strategic concern in an organization and one executives should be involved with. Consider using “organizational change” or “leading change.”
  • Second, stop using the word “new” to descibe your subsequent state. New implies a change from here to there and then it is done. It sends the message to employees that once you master the new way of working, they can relax as they have arrived at “new”. The truth is there’s another “new” waiting in the wings. So, call it what it is. It’s “next.” This alerts employees to expect more and that “next” will be a way of life. Offer career development and training in how to live in a “next” environment. As employees gain the skills to embrace change they can move towards creating an adaptable and flexible workforce.

This is the 100,000 foot view, but it’s a place to start. Oh, and don’t forget change fatigue, but more on that later…

Your thoughts?



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Category: organizational-change  strategic-planning  

Tags: adaptable-workforce  pmo  ppm  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Language of Successful Organizational Change

  1. […] Change Management – Elise Olding First – stop using “change management.” It’s a myth, change can’t be […]

  2. Hi Elise,

    Glad to see your post, although I don’t wholeheartedly agree with your suggestions. I do agree however that there seems to be renewed interest in change management.

    Arguing over semantics doesn’t add much value. It seems that what you’re proposing is a name change for a body of work, research, and findings that exists just fine, thank you very much. 🙂

    Sure, leadership is a critical part of change. However leadership is only one facet. It has been proven over many years that change is a process, and processes require management to achieve successful outcomes. There is a science to this.

    Regarding the “new” nomenclature, again, I’m not sure calling something “next” is really adding a lot of value, although it’s certainly less harmful than trying to change the semantics of a body of knowledge that is already rather well defined.

    thanks for your post,

  3. Brian Clendenin says:

    I disagree with John Tesmer’s comment that changing the words we use doesn’t add value. The words we use influence our thoughts and perceptions. If there is potentially a better outcome achieved by simply improving the words we us, then it is worth testing out than to never try at all.

    For example, in Richard Hunter’s book, “The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value” the words we use are critical. (

    Based on experience, I have known many leaders change their vocabulary to improve organizational culture and spark passion and direction of their team – A simple tweak that costs nothing yet can achieve significant results.

    To orchestrate change, a leader needs followers.

    Just my POV…

  4. Chris Taylor says:

    Elise, I agree with your statement that change can’t be managed…that organizations are managed through change. As John says, too, change can be a process that gets executed over and over with refinements along the way. One of the biggest challenges I see is the resistance to change that makes crisis one of the few ways to move people.

    Organizations need to have a way of ‘moving’ to new business models without crisis and without the senior execs making threats. That’s the Holy Grail of organizational change.

    Unfortunately, there are few companies with the leadership and culture to do this. Some are startups that will gradually and eventually ‘lock down’. Some are just the rare exceptional company that gets it. How to create it? Not sure.

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